Homeowner vents frustration over dryer exhaust duct


As I travel life's highways I often gaze at other people's homes and ask, "How do they vent their clothes dryer?"

Getting the dryer's hot, humid exhaust and its accompanying lint out of the house has been one of my life's quests, at least during the period of my life I have spent dwelling in a rowhouse.

Venting a dryer in a detached house is not a big deal. You poke the pipe carrying the dryer's exhaust out an opening in the side of the house. The ideal setup is a short, straight shot using stiff sheet metal ducting that is at least 4 inches in diameter. This ideal duct ends with an exhaust hood that is at least 12 inches off the ground and that has a swing-out damper to prevent back drafts and entry of wildlife.

In a rowhouse, venting can be complicated. To start with, in many row homes, the sides of the house are neighbors walls. This arrangement is great for lowering heating bills, but it presents a problem when it comes time to find a place to stick an exhaust pipe. Your choices are venting the dryer in the front of the house, the back of the house, or finding some inventive solution somewhere in between.

Venting the dryer in the front of the house usually gets you into trouble with the good taste police. Members of this strong-minded group, including people you might be married to, contend the appearance of a house is diminished when a vent pipe is sticking out a front window. The good taste police may think it is picturesque when smoke curls out of chimney. But somehow they can't be convinced that steam curling out of a vent in a front, basement window is not only aesthetically pleasing, but is also immensely practical. The steam can melt the snow on the front sidewalk.

Venting the dryer at the back of a rowhouse may work for some households, but it is a problem for ours. We can't put our laundry room down there because our kitchen is already there. The kitchen takes up the back half of the ground floor of our house. That was how the house was built some 120 years ago. Hanging on the kitchen wall are some old bells. The bells once summoned servants who toiled in the downstairs kitchen. Today you can still ring those bells, but now no one comes to help you.

Overall, I like having the kitchen on the ground floor. It helps keep the adults separated from the children, especially when the television is located in a room several floors up. But it also means that we can't vent the dryer out the back window, unless we want to put the dryer in the kitchen. And, I am told, we do not want to do that.

So that leaves me with trying inventive solutions to the dryer dilemma. Our dryer sits next to the clothes washer in the front half of the ground floor. This is our basement -- a big, dirty room walled off from the kitchen. A previous owner of the house tried to vent the dryer by hooking it up to an exhaust pipe that ran from the basement up to the roof. That is four floors. Hot air rises, but not that far. Moreover, this exhaust pipe up was also hooked up to the vent for the oven. I once turned on the dryer and lint flew up the exhaust pipe, took a turn, and ended up in the kitchen oven. To avoid more fricassee of lint, I disconnected the dryer exhaust from the stove.

Since then, I have hooked the dryer up to a variety of indoor venting kits. These kits consist of a flexible plastic exhaust hose running from the back of the dryer to a plastic bucket that is partially filled with water. The water is supposed to catch the lint. Wayne Daggett, a hot air expert I spoke with at The Maytag Co. in Newton, Iowa, frowns on such kits. The plastic exhaust hose can sag, causing lint to build up inside the hose, creating a fire hazard, he said. The water in the bucket can create "back pressure" that impedes the flow of the air in the hose and could make the dryer function poorly, he said.

He recommended positioning the dryer away from walls and putting a "Dacron mesh lint bag" or a piece of old pantyhose on the dryer's exhaust. The lint bag or hose should be cleaned after every use, he said.

Besides lint, a dryer's exhaust adds moisture to the air. This can be pleasant in the winter; in summer, extra moisture can cause paint to peel from nearby walls, he said. Don't I know it.

The other day I bought some metal ducting to replace my old plastic hose. I guess I am going to replace the bucket at the end of the exhaust with a piece of pantyhose. But mostly I dream of the day that I am somehow able to shoot my dryer exhaust into the great outdoors.

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